Media Release
What would a Sydney mega-region of 10m people look like? – new report
05 June, 2018

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Matt Levinson

A ‘mega-region’ stretching from Newcastle to Wollongong through Western Sydney could be a global economic powerhouse of 10million people, linked together by fast rail, world-class industries and major trade points, according to a new report published today by the Committee for Sydney.

The advocacy group has brought together a panel of experts to lead a year-long investigation into better links between Greater Sydney and surrounding regional cities. The group’s final report calls for the establishment of a ‘Sandstone mega-region’, linking together the three cities in Greater Sydney with Newcastle, Wollongong and the Central Coast.

The report highlights that the Sandstone mega-region makes up over 70% of the NSW population and nearly 25% of the national population. It is home to three major trade ports that act as gateways to the world, including Port Botany, NSW’s largest container port, which contributes $3.2 billion to Gross State Product.

The six cities are also serviced by the 1,588 km-long passenger rail network of NSW and three, soon to be four, passenger service airports; Newcastle Airport and the Illawarra Regional Airport, Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, and in 2026, the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Within the region, there are eight universities, six of which are ranked among QS’s top 250 universities worldwide, and two are within the top 50 universities.

The report also calls on NSW Government to introduce a network of one-hour or less heavy rail connections between cities within the mega-region and argues that building new housing across the rail corridor will help to take pressure off the market in Sydney. The study argues that an additional 40,000 dwellings could be built across NSW by opening up land across rail corridors and found that with improved rail connections by 2036, this network could deliver over $75 billion of housing affordability improvements for Sydney.

In addition, while many of the people moving due to improved rail access would continue to work in Sydney, some new residents would switch to local jobs and help generate increased local economic activity. Businesses would also gain agglomeration benefits from the improved access to Sydney. By 2036, there could be an additional 4,725 local jobs in Wollongong, 3,875 in Gosford and 3,225 in Newcastle because of improved rail access to Sydney.  

Faster rail could also slash commuting times. For example, the current journey time from Newcastle to Parramatta could reduce from 153 minutes to 60 minutes; Wollongong to the Sydney CBD from 85 minutes to 60 minutes and Gosford to the Sydney CBD from 80 minutes to 40 minutes. Crucially, this network could also create new direct links from Newcastle to Parramatta and from Wollongong to Campbelltown and Liverpool – creating new opportunities and reshaping our region.

The report argues that ‘off the shelf’ fast rail technology could improve connectivity between the six cities of the mega-region, as well as orientate Sydney towards its geographical centre of Parramatta. Even a moderately fast rail network that reaches speeds of 200 km/h could connect Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong with Sydney in 60 minutes or less. Along with broader city-shaping benefits, economic modelling indicates that such a scenario would improve housing affordability, accessibility to jobs, and regional employment throughout the mega-region.

The report is the culmination of a year-long investigation led by the Committee for Sydney. A Commission on the Newcastle-Gosford-Sydney-Wollongong mega-region has been Chaired by Kyle Loades, former Chair of the NRMA and Professor Paul Wellings, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong as Vice-Chair.  A further 40 public and private sector organisations have been involved in the Commission, a full list of which is published below.

Kyle Loades, Chair of the Commission said:

“NSW is blessed with a set of dynamic and diverse regional centres, but more could be done to realise their economic potential.”

“Enhancing the collections between our great urban centres like Newcastle, Wollongong and Gosford with fast-growing Greater Sydney could create a world-class mega-region of 10 million people, cutting-edge jobs and high-quality services.”

“Faster and more integrated transport is the key. Speeding up travel times will make commuting quicker and easier, whilst creating the opportunity for more housing. The potential is real: let’s grasp this opportunity”.

Professor Paul Wellings, Vice-Chair of the Commission said:

“International experience has demonstrated the scale of the economic and social benefits that mega regions can deliver without compromising the distinctive historical and cultural identities of their individual component cities.”

“Education will play a significant role in realising this vision. As the NUW Alliance (University of Newcastle, University of New South Wales, University of Wollongong) is already demonstrating, collaboration between all eight of the Sandstone Mega Region’s universities, together with TAFE and other education providers, has the potential to deliver far-reaching benefits in our rapidly evolving knowledge economy.”

The concept of a mega-region is internationally recognised. For example, Amsterdam’s fast rise to Global City status has benefited from being less than an hour away from the diversity and talent base of the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The Randstad region is the metropolitan area comprising of the Netherlands’ four largest cities: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and the Hague. With a population of 7.5 million people, and a GDP of €288 billion, the Randstad has become one of the largest metropolitan regions in Europe.

In addition, The Pearl River Delta (PRD) is a region in South-East China, adjacent to the global city of Hong Kong, where some of the world’s most innovative companies are based. At the heart of the PRD are the cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dongguan and Foshan, which have been at the forefront of China’s economic development for nearly 40 years. The PRD, once described as the ‘factory floor’ of the world, is now referred to as the ‘Silicon Delta’. It has GDP of more than $1.2 trillion and has been growing at an average of 12% a year for the past decade.

Note to editors:

  1. The Committee for Sydney is an independent think tank and champion for the whole of Sydney, providing thought leadership beyond the electoral cycle. The Committee aims to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions that make Sydney a competitive, resilient and liveable global city. The Committee has a diverse membership with over 150 member organisations: including the major corporate sectors driving Sydney’s economy; strategically minded local authorities; key NSW Government departments and agencies; not- for-profit organisations; and leading arts and sporting institutions. Members help develop and deliver priorities, provide expertise and ensure a representative geographical spread across the greater Sydney region.
  2. Newcastle, Gosford, Sydney, Wollongong Committee members: Arup; NSW Business Chamber; Boyden; NSW Department of Planning & Environment; BT Global Services; NSW Land and Housing Corporation; City of Sydney; Place Design Group; Compass Housing Services; Regional Development Australia – Central Coast; Curtin University; Regional Development Australia – Hunter; GPT Group; Regional Development Australia – Illawarra; Greater Sydney Commission; SGS Economics & Planning; HASSELL; SMEC; Hunter Business Chamber; The University of Newcastle; Illawarra First; The University of Sydney; Infrastructure Australia; Transport for NSW; JLL; University of New South Wales; John Holland Group; University of Newcastle; Keolis Downer; University of Technology Sydney; Landcom; University of Wollongong; Newcastle City Council; Wollongong City Council; NRMA.